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Hockey, not NBA, bugging Big Syd

October 16, 1998

So there's no football or baseball on cable, and I'm scanning the sports channels to see if there's anything on that's worth my attention.

(Click.) We've got truck racing on HTS (click). The bowling tournament on ESPN is wrapping up, what's next? "Wonderful World of Golf" (click!). Hmmmm .... here's ESPN2 ... I just missed "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Calendar." Maybe there's one of those Fitness America pageants on tonight ...

Huh? What's this?

Pro hockey?

Bruins-Avalanche? A REGULAR SEASON game already?

Click. Click. Click. Toss remote in trash.

This can't be happening.

I know, jumping the gun is an American tradition. Some mall stores have their Christmas decorations up already. Some automakers have unveiled their 2000 models, and it's not even 1999 yet. And even as I type this, at about 2:35 p.m., I know the lines are already forming at every restaurant that offers an "early bird" menu.

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But this idea of starting ice hockey season in mid-October, before the leaves have turned, is over the line. In fact, it's a two-line offside.

It's called ICE hockey, people. Ice means winter. Go away and come back when Hellane Park freezes over.

The only Puck I want to see on my TV right now is Wolfgang.

Thank goodness for the NBA lockout.

Some people are worried about what might happen to pro basketball's popularity while this labor dispute drags on and on.

Nothing, that's what.

Most sports fans are too busy with the NFL, the World Series, Mike Tyson's psychiatric report and the equally confusing Winston Cup and Bowl Championship Series formulae to even think about hoops. And the NBA owners know it.

Hey, nobody cares if you cancel the BEGINNING of a pro season. Major League Baseball and the NFL found that out decades ago. It's the END of the year that counts. Mess with that, and it may take the fans about, uh, six months, to forgive and forget.

There's nothing magical about the beginning of basketball season. Baseball's Opening Day marks the renewal of life, the passage from the winter doldrums to the promise of spring and sunshine. Football's first weekend is an explosion of color and pageantry set against near-perfect late-summer skies.

A basketball opener? It's like the first day of a six-month tour of duty on a submarine. The initial thrill quickly gives way to panic as the realization of months of stale air and claustrophobia sinks in.

Besides, the only drama surrounding the coming NBA season will be whether Michael Jordan decides to play for Tim, Raymond, Marlene, Sleepy, Pretty Boy, Patterson or whichever Floyd will be coaching Da Bulls.

There are what, 32 teams in the NBA? As long as MJ is healthy and reasonably motivated, exactly one of them has a chance at the Larry ("Watergate was burglarized on my watch as Democratic National Committee chairman") O'Brien Trophy.

If His Airness laces them up, the only meaningful race in the NBA will be the battle to see who chokes first, the Wizards or Latrell Sprewell.

I don't start paying attention to pro hoops until after the Pro Bowl, which is played about 10 days before the St. James Invitational and about three weeks after the Nuggets are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.

As it stands now, the earliest the pros could start playing is Nov. 17 - which is still too early, but it's three days AFTER some major colleges open their seasons. The HCC Hawks tip off against a touring Norwegian team on Nov. 2, only 17 days from now.

But if you must see NBA players, you can catch Shawn Kemp throwing one down on Steve Urkel the next time MTV replays the "Rock & Jock" game.

And if you're really desperate, I thought I saw a couple of kids playing H-O-R-S-E over at Elgin Park. They won't even charge you $40 to watch.

On with the predictions (last week: 23-4, .852; season: 118-35, .771):

HIGH SCHOOLS




Tonight's games

Liberty 46, Frederick 6 - For Liberty, this game will be like shore leave.

Brunswick 30, North Hagerstown 13 - If Hagerstown saved the roundhouse, maybe the Railroaders would go easy on the Hubs.

Middletown 43, Smithsburg 6 - Knights can sleepwalk through the MVAL schedule.

Catoctin 41, South Hagerstown 12 - Cougars prove to be as slippery as mercury.

South Carroll 25, Thomas Johnson 20 - Carroll O'Connor in "In the Heat of the Night" is my favorite southern Carroll.

Walkersville 44, Francis Scott Key 14 - For Lions, this is like finding a car with the Key in the ignition.

Northern Garrett 35, Berkeley Springs 32 - Indians make it entertaining.

Musselman 28, Keyser 15 - Even a Tornado won't affect this year's apple harvest.

Hedgesville 29, Allegany 24 - Eagles catch Campers napping.

Fort Hill 36, Jefferson 29 - Sentinels need to be wary of area's best 1-5 team.

Northern 38, James Buchanan 16 - Rockets' mission remains on hold.

Greencastle 45, Big Spring 19 - That one big spring in the middle of my mattress is giving me fits.

Carlisle 24, Waynesboro 21 - Carl Isle is one of my least favorite tropcial vacation spots.

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